Late in the day on Friday, February 14th, before the long-weekend, the Ford Conservatives announced their next steps for their Employment Services System Managers pilot project that will impact three regions of the province: Hamilton-Niagara, Peel, and Muskoka-Kawartha. It’s part of a plan to shift employment services system management from the 47 Municipalities and District Social Services Administration Boards to 15 new regional entities. In each region, municipalities, non-profits and for-profit corporations, will bid to manage the clients who are a part of Ontario’s social assistance plans, Ontario Works (OW), and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), in each region.
CUPE Ontario’s Social Services Committee condemns this as a privatization scheme, saying that the government should have made the announcement on Groundhog Day, which was earlier this month, since it’s almost an exact replica of the JobsNow Pilot Project the Liberals established 15 years ago.
In March 2005, the province hired a for-profit corporation, B.C.-based West Coast Group (WCG), to provide Ontario Works employment services and supports to people in receipt of social assistance. The failed project included a fee-for-performance model, with WCG being paid on a performance basis where the fees paid amounted to a percentage of reduced income assistance payments.
The result, according to an independent evaluation of JobsNow, was that Ontario Works’ recipients were mainly placed in part-time and low-waged work. The incentive for WCG meant that people were encouraged to accept jobs that weren’t appropriate for them. CUPE Ontario opposes the inclusion of the private-sector and is concerned that the most recent announcement will repeat the mistakes of the past. When funding is linked to targets it creates fragility in a network of employment programs. Instead, holistic employment programs are vital in a precarious labour market. The range of required services provided must include pre-employment supports like training and job search programs, as well as post-employment or job retention supports for social assistance recipients.
At one time, Consolidated Municipal Service Managers (CMSMs) and District Social Services Administration Boards (DSSABs) had a robust and integrated system of employment supports directly linked to case management. Recipients of social assistance could work with multiple staff who were coordinated, leading to better outcomes. Over the last decade, however, municipalities and DSSABs have increasingly relied on external programs and services delivered in communities by either Employment Ontario contract providers or not-for-profit, multi-service agencies.
The Province’s new plan will make things much worse.
Referrals to outside agencies for employment supports breaks down the cohesiveness of case management. It separates employment from life circumstances by focusing narrowly on short-term employability, leading to long-term impacts. The shift to 15 regions for the management of services means limited local accountability and it cuts the continuity of services that municipalities and community partners provide. This shift to large geographical regions is similar to what the Ford Conservatives are proposing for Public Health and Land Ambulance Services that has been met with much resistance by residents of Ontario and Municipalities across the Province.
Front line workers always fear that people will fall through the cracks, and with this model of services the government is creating canyons for Ontario’s most vulnerable. This plan will hurt people who need support the most and CUPE Ontario, as well as the Social Services Committee, join the many other organizations who’ve criticized it in committing to continue our opposition.